Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ***

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Director Zack Snyder’s new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is in danger of becoming merely ammunition in Warner Bros’s newly launched DC Films Universe battle with Marvel, rather than viewed as a superhero movie in its own right.

This sequel will be compared with Snyder’s first DC Comics film, Man of Steel (2013), with an eye on the much-anticipated, future Justice League movies. The 2013 film was criticised for portraying Superman (Henry Cavill) in a dark, destructive light, something some were not prepared for. Superman even kills one of his own, which shocked many.

Dawn of Justice is no exception – Superman (Cavill again) is far from good and inflicts some rough justice. However, the film attempts to address the fear the character has (where he belongs, what he’s capable of), as well as man’s fear of Superman’s power and threat to humanity.

It uses two contrasting characters to do this in Batman (Ben Affleck) and Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), both of which equally despises and celebrates this god incarnate’s gifts. It’s like the comic-book version of the Easter story; the persecution of a deity through ignorance. Using Snyder’s enormous visual prowess, Dawn of Justice is full of intriguing messages and imagery, which is just as well, as the acting gets lost in the CG medley, as do the characters’ reasoning.

After bringing down General Zod – remnants of which we see at the beginning of this, Batman wants to curb Superman’s actions, while the world decides whether it really needs a superhero at all. Is the Kryptonian actually a menace to society, considering the chaos he brought to Earth in the 2013 film?

With Batman after Superman, a new threat, Doomsday, is allowed to emerge, created by Superman’s arch enemy Luthor. Can the superheroes put aside their differences to battle the true evil destroying Metropolis once more, with a little help from Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)?

Think Nolan and The Dark Knight for comic-book grittiness. The sheen is completely absent from Superman’s colourful persona. Thank goodness for Clark Kent – Superman’s alter-ego – or there would be zero soul left in the character. Cavill has limited facial expressions too, relying on his furrowed brow to do all the acting work. Hence this keeps Superman even more two dimensional. It also limits how much we really understand about how exactly this ‘anti-hero’ feels, which is a shame.

Snyder’s Batman is also a damaged character. Affleck gets little to do apart from scowl around and clunk about in what must be the heaviest Batman suit ever. Gone is Batman’s smart-thinking/acting slickness. He seems more Transformer than lithe bat-like creature. This seems to suit Snyder’s heavy-meted action sequences, especially when Doomsday appears. However, Batman comes across as a lumbering, half-witted brute most of the time, which again, makes him ‘heartless’, with only scenes of the wrecked Wayne mansion etc to suggest his inner pain and grief.

As a result of a lack of what is going on inside these characters’ heads, comes a lack of empathy and understanding as to what Batman’s personal grievance with Superman actually is? Snyder merely ‘suggests’ with flashbacks, which doesn’t quite add up. Apart from what Luthor wants both to think of each other, this doesn’t seem strong enough rationality for them to be knocking the hell out of each other.

That said when the Batman v Superman showdown actually arrives, it might be a whirl of CGI but it’s pretty exhilarating to watch on a big screen. Snyder is in his element here, and just the right comic-book fan/artist to recreate such a spectacle for fanboys out there. Superman’s brush with Doomsday re-addresses his lost humanity too.

As lovely and determined as Amy Adams is as rogue reporter Lois Lane, there does seem to be a little too much Ms Lane in trouble – or in the buff – in this. How anyone can navigate that much concrete rumble in heels is anyone’s guess during the final battle scenes. As strong a female character as Lane is, it’s Gadot’s Diana Prince/Wonder Woman that’s the more positive contrast with the male characters. Hers is a pure superhero without agenda, just old-school trying to save us from the greater evil.

Like Ledger’s Joker, Eisenberg makes Luthor his own crazed interpretation. His is a babbling nervous wreck, likely to self-implode at any second and keeping things edgy. His excitable state at the very least keeps things energetic, or they would be in danger of slipping into a depressed state – him, and Jeremy Irons’s smart tongue as Alfred.

If you like lots of mood, Batman v Superman is your kind of DC Comics interpretation, though it is more visual that cerebral. There is a distinct lack of emotion from the main characters that leaves Dawn of Justice plain numbing. If it wasn’t for some of the supporting cast, it would be a CG swirl of colour and noise. Though, if there was a prize for cinematic gloom, this installment would win hands down.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 **

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If you’re a fan of 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you can easily forgive the 14-year wait to revisit the chaotic Portokalos family. Like any family reunion, you look forward to the event but dread the possible outcomes. The sequel, again written by lead star Nia Vardalos – who plays the long-suffering Greek-American Toula from Chicago, has the same effect; it has its ups and downs, dramas and frustrations, but casts an undeniably fuzzy nostalgic spell over proceedings.

In Part 2, Toula is still married to WASP vegetarian Ian (John Corbett) and lives next door to colourful and emotionally-draining parents, proud Greek dad Gus (Michael Constantine) and mum Maria (Lainie Kazan). However, she now has an equally suffering teenage daughter called Paris (Elena Kampouris), who is getting the same comments from her grandfather about her lack of a Greek suitor, just as mother got.

While Toula and Ian’s marriage has become a bit stale in the passion department, another longer-standing marriage is exposed as a sham. The Portokalos clan must rally the troops to set matters straight and throw the best wedding celebration ever (again) – Greek style.

Vardalos begins by doing all the right things to recapture the success of the 2002 Oscar-nominated film, including the familiar locations and bringing back the original cast – like outspoken Aunt Voula, portrayed by the ever brilliant Andrea Martin. She also re-introduces the various catchphrases and idiosyncrasies, which get fan sniggers and some fresh laughs from newbies. That said the latter might be phased by the infamous Windolene gag as it’s not really explained in its own right. Here lies the problem.

Vardalos has so much to reacquaint her audience with, while introducing new elements that it all feels like a scatter-gun comedic approach, with only Voula getting her deserved breathing time. There are numerous sub-plots, as the writer seems to not want to leave anyone out. For example, one key family member turns out to be gay, which is given a fleeting remark to continue on with the merriment. Knowing Greek culture, this would be a far bigger deal – just think about when the family found out that Ian didn’t eat meat.

As cute as the whole coming-of-age Paris tale is – mirroring her mother’s independence issues, it just pales into insignificance to the dominance of the other character’s concerns. It really does feel like a battle of personalities on screen, each vying for your attention. However, it’s the sheer mayhem we first fell in love with in 2002, plus strange habits that may well brazenly bang the ethnic stereotype drum, but are part of this film’s self-mocking charm. Here, Vardalos really does keep things trivial as not to offend.

Vardalos and Corbett as Toula and Ian still hold that endearing appeal, even though they have become far too comfortable with each other to the point of smugness. Throw in another awkward car-parking scene that’s as predictable as it is a welcome little nod to their past dating escapades. Vardalos really has her lead’s best interests at heart, which is reassuring, at least.

Mute granny, Mana-Yiayia (Bess Meisler) has become tad overkill this time. The fact that she doesn’t look old enough to be playing octogenarian actor Constantine’s mother is one thing, but she has been turned into the franchise’s mascot joker. It becomes a little nauseating. When something transpires, cue Mana-Yiayia’s silly reaction, like the laziest sitcom writing. It’s one of the givens, like Voula’s unedited comments, Gus’s faux distress, and Toula and Ian’s dopey grins. As much as there is comfort in the familiar, Vardalos would have been wise to push the boat out with much less happening in the tale.

It’s not that My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 doesn’t have its entertainment value, it’s just it needed to keep the familiarity while cleverly making things fresh. Stick with tradition and the frustrating foibles – that’s where the comedy lies – but don’t actually stick with similar scenarios as last time, otherwise the jokes grow as old as the characters have.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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London Has Fallen ***

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Watch out Europe; beefy Banning (Gerard Butler) is back – and so are the rest of the White House crew. The action is no longer confined to one building, Olympus (code name for the White House) – as in the 2013 film, but London, a city under terrorist siege. London Has Fallen is more of the same carnage too, only more graphic than the first – and surprisingly still rated 15.

Banning continues to protect President Asher (Aaron Eckhart), but also contemplates resigning as a dad-to-be. However, when news of the British Prime Minister’s death reaches Washington DC, the President is invited to attend the state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, along with other world leaders. Banning is there by his side.

Then tragedy strikes in a massive, coordinated terrorist attack, seeing Banning and Asher on the run in London’s city streets from a heavily armed enemy. Meanwhile, Vice President Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) – formerly Speaker Trumball – tries to coordinate a rescue from back home in the States with the (over) use of drones.

The whole premise of a London-wide attack would seem utterly ridiculous two decades ago. However, since ‘terror’ has reached European streets as recently as the 2015 Paris attacks, it really isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to buy into this film’s plot – however much we want to dismiss it as daft. After all, we Londoners are constantly told a threat is imminent and many attempts are thwarted daily. This film certainly pays lip service to security services’ need for greater online snooping powers – indirectly picked up on by one of the supporting characters.

There is also a need for a real-life action hero right now in a world of turmoil; to see ‘terrorists’ get their just desserts by a one-man killing machine. It’s the stuff of far-reaching fantasy. This is where Butler’s character Banning triumphs again, much like a pesky, latter-day John McClane. Butler certainly gets the job done – and in tailored style, being highly entertaining to watch. Although, the ‘terrorists’ are actually part of a rightly aggrieved family (however abhorrent their previous actions might be), they are the usual bogeymen to satisfy Western tabloid sensationalism. But enough on the politics for now.

London Has Fallen is untaxing action fodder that really has its tongue firmly in cheek – most of the time. It has to, what with some of the corniest lines delivered on screen in a while that will have you howling with laughter. It still holds as nice a pace as Fuqua’s 2013 film. This time the director is relative action newcomer, Iranian Babak Najafi whose only other equivalent feature project was Easy Money II in 2012. Still, the same writing team is guilty for this second instalment, but it’s a reactionary script designed to get the whoops and the groans as we go along for the ride.

The special effects are fantastic as London crumbles. There’s even a quaint throwback to wartime London that the writers touch on that supposedly clears the streets – something that just wouldn’t happen in this day and age as people would be out on their phones for social media documenting when the networks are back up.

The action is definitely grizzlier – and quelchier in effect, as Banning disperses with baddies in hand-to-hand combat even, while raising the body count. It also shows just what the US would like to do to a team of fundamentalist beheaders too, that’s sure to get the cheers. In fact, much of the later action is played out in Tour of Duty-style video gaming, so it’s titillating stuff. Widening the playing field this time just gives the writers more leeway to be grander in effect. The trouble is the end fight is held in a more constricted environment, so that’s a shame, considering all of London is at their disposal.

Will Asher be back – there’s a hint Banning might be. In the meantime, it’s down to that faultless tower of screen strength Morgan to settle our nerves and bang the drum of defiance that we just lap up and can’t help but grin at. London Has Fallen does do what it sets out to do for an action blockbuster; shamelessly entertain, free of consequence.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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